with gallery: R.U.B. BBQ and Pub brings good barbecue to Packard
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A breakfast spot, an organic sandwich shop, a bakery, a coffee shop, and, most recently, a short-lived sports bar all have occupied a potentially promising location at State and Packard. Yet, for the past 10 years, it seems like that convenient campus spot has been dark and shuttered more than it has been open for business. So I was pleased to see lines out the door of R.U.B. BBQ Pub the first weekends after it opened in December.
On a recent Friday night, we walked into a lively, jam-packed restaurant. By 6 p.m., nearly every table was filled, and sports talk hosts from the local radio station WTKA (1050-AM) were broadcasting. WTKA broadcasts live from the restaurant every Friday.
Owners and brothers Randy and Dominic Yono were undeterred from opening here, convinced that the restaurant's barbecue — it smokes all its own meats — would be a draw. They already run R.U.B. BBQs in Warren and Detroit. Craig Quiroga, one of the managers, says that in addition to the barbecue, another selling point is the 32 beers on draft — which eventually will be close to 50, along with 200 bottled beers and happy hour deals.
640 Packard St., Ann Arbor
- Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight for the full menu; from midnight.-2 a.m. there is a limited menu of appetizers and a late night happy hour with drink specials.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover.
- Liquor: Yes
- Prices: Moderate. Entrees are in the $12-$14 range and include a choice of two side dishes.
- Noise level: Loud
- Wheelchair access: Yes
R.U.B.'s specialty is barbecue, of course, ranging from pulled pork to chicken, brisket and ribs; and barbecue is where the food shines.
Everything else we tried is almost inconsequential window dressing, including the slightly smoky tasting macaroni, which was on the dry side. It was prepared with rigatoni noodles and doused with cheddar cheese. Still, it's impressive that a meat-focused place has any vegetarian offerings; there is also smoked salmon — which our server dissuaded us from ordering — and a black bean burger. The menu also includes a few gluten-free entrees, some gluten-free pies and five gluten-free beers.
Our server highly recommended the fried pickles appetizer. If you're a fan, R.U.B.'s should hit the spot. The pickles were served warm in a thick batter, made even better by a slightly spicy dipping sauce.
The best appetizer we ordered, however, was the wing dings. I most enjoyed the wings prepared with the sticky Memphis barbecue sauce, succulent when paired with the tender meat. Too large a proportion of mustard in the honey mustard sauce made it a less appealing coating.
The nachos appetizer was mammoth, big enough for several to share. I enjoyed the large variety of ingredients of chili, baked beans, lettuce tomato, jalapeno and sour cream that melded well together. Chili was also hearty, topped with sour cream.
The Michigan Greek salad, big enough for two to easily share, was a healthful offering, full of fresh greens, beets, olives, cranberries and roasted almonds, tossed with a nice balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
On our first visit, all our dishes came out in lightning speed. The appetizer arrived within minutes, followed promptly by the chili, salad and main courses. Even so, there were temperature issues. The chili, sweet potato and french fries we ordered were served lukewarm. The sweet potato fries were thin instead of hearty and seemed like they were frozen. I would suggest the french fries instead, which are more like thick wedges of potatoes, seasoned with a kick. The chicken Caesar wrap was basically limp lettuce in a tortilla shell, unremarkable and worth skipping.
I appreciated the large container of napkins provided on the table. You'll need them if you indulge in the barbecue here. Some of these offerings are so hearty, tender and delicious, they clearly account for quick popularity of the establishment.
The standouts were the Texas beef brisket, tender and served on Texas toast, with a side of wonderful sweet potatoes, seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon and finished off with a dry rub, considered a secret recipe. My delicious Slim Shady consisted of pulled chicken, topped with coleslaw and Memphis sauce, served on a fresh Kaiser roll. It was so massive that the ingredients spilled out and I could barely make a dent in the sandwich. The meat's flavoring combined sweet and spicy for a mouth-watering experience. Tennessee pulled pork was almost as good, though the meat was a bit dry.
The only miss was the baby-back ribs, which were burnt, covered in a black, charred exterior and entirely overcooked. The absence of a sauce didn't help.
The entrees come with a choice of two sides. On my second visit, I opted for the jalapeno cornbread. It was served in a custard dish, topped with melted honey; its sweetness didn't complement the cornbread, which was overly dry. The collard greens that accompanied my son's dish were cooked properly, but were overly salty.
The desserts are good enough to satisfy a sweet tooth, should you have room for them. Though they're not made in house, they're decent. The pastries had a thin crust, but the filling was creamy and delicious. My favorite was the Reese's, a great peanut butter pie. The Hershey's is perfect for chocoholics. Red velvet pie had a bit too much raspberry sauce, which made it overpoweringly sweet.
Servers were very friendly. But on our first visit, they sped our food to us so quickly — the main courses quickly followed the appetizers — that it was, dare I say, almost to the point of feeling rushed, even though the place wasn't yet at capacity. We didn't have that problem the second time, where the food arrived in a reasonable, yet more leisurely, amount of time.
Though not every dish is top notch, there's enough at R.U.B. BBQ Pub to recommend it, especially for the college crowd. And hopefully, that's enough to keep this location from going dark again for quite a while.